Japan and Russia will hold talks in Moscow on Aug 19 to renew efforts to find a solution to a decades-long territorial row that has prevented the two sides from signing a World War II peace treaty.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said that Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama will meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov to discuss the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, TV Asahi reported Saturday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to restart talks between the two nations when they met in April.
The decades-long territorial row that has prevented the two sides from signing a World War II peace treaty.
The dispute surrounds the southernmost four of the Kuril islands—known in Japan as the Northern Territories—which have been controlled by Moscow since the end of World War II but are still claimed by Tokyo.
Economic cooperation between Russia and Japan has been stymied by their failure since the 1950s to agree on a peace treaty.
But since returning to power in December, Abe has made improving relations with Russia a priority and given rise to cautious hope by backing the resumption of stalled talks on a solution.
The last such top-level official visit to Russia was by then Prime minister Junichiro Koizumi in January 2003. Former prime ministers Yasuo Fukuda and Taro Aso visited in 2008 and 2009 for shorter, lower-level trips.
Japan is particularly interested in increasing its import of Russian energy resources as it seeks to diversify supplies in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Russia’s trade with Japan reached $32 billion (24 billion euros) last year. But Russia, despite its size and proximity, was only Japan’s 15th most important trading partner, in a sign of the unrealized potential of relations.
Yet there remains little hope of an immediate breakthrough, with Tokyo insisting the four islands currently inhabited by around 16,500 Russians are its territory and Moscow showing no hint of a compromise.
One solution mooted in the past could involve Russia ceding control of the two smallest islands of Shikotan and Khabomai and keeping the much larger Kunashir and Iturup (known as Kunishiri and Etorofu in Japan).
But even this would require massive concessions from both sides that would be unpalatable for nationalists.